Home to Home Series
While we are sheltering-in-place, we invite you to enjoy featured performances from the RSO, as well as exclusive videos from our own RSO musicians.
We are anxious to be on the stage again, but until then please enjoy.
RSO Featured Archives
Bach/Elgar • Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Richmond Symphony Orchestra, September 15, 2012
Guy Victor Bordo, conducting
Johann Sebastian Bach (arranged for orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar) · Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Born: Eisenach, Turingia, Germany, in 1685
Died: Leipzig in 1750
Premiere: Unknown, but probably in 1708 in Weimar. The Elgar version was first heard in Gloucester, England, in 1922.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, harp, percussion; strings
Duration: 9 minutes
Bach was twenty-three when he accepted a post as court organist for the Prince of Saxe-Weimar. Then a little town of about 5,000 people, Weimar was nonetheless an important musical post. Its ruler, Duke Wilhelm Ernst, was a gifted organist in his own right and played in his own court orchestra. His eldest son, Prince Johann Ernst, hired Bach on the strength of an earlier stay in Weimar when he had served briefly as a violinist in that orchestra.
This second stay in Weimar proved a happy time for the young Bach. He and his first wife, Maria Barbara, had six children there (only three survived, including his musical sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. The Weimar years also saw Bach reach the height of his greatness as an organist, drawing to him some promising students from across central Europe.
It was in this second Weimar period that Bach seems to have composed his magnificent Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor. The date cannot be known for certain, as there is no surviving manuscript copy and the date of publication was much later, after he had moved to the city of Cöthen. But the times were ripe for such genius, as these Weimar years also produced the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, and the Prelude and Fugue in E Major, BWV 566.
BWV 537 is about equally divided between the opening Fantasia—a reflective, even solemn extended statement that builds intensity through a magnificent massing of organistic forces—and the Fugue that offers its deceptively simple theme four times in a row, presented in contrapuntal form. In both the fantasia and the fugue the demands on the performer are formidable and must have proved a challenge to Bach’s many pupils seeking to grasp and deploy his organ technique.
Bach’s BWV 537 was transcribed for orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar. A friendship with Richard Strauss, begun in 1901, culminated immediately after the First World War in an offer to mend the breach between the German and the English people by collaborating on an orchestration of Bach’s work. Strauss was to do the Fantasia, while Elgar took on the Fugue. Strauss, alas, was never to complete his share of the work, so Elgar orchestrated the Fantasia as well, with the premiere of the completed work occurring in 1922 at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester.
Elgar’s skills at orchestration produced a tremendous orchestral showpiece, some years before the “craze” of orchestrating Bach’s keyboard works came to flower with Stokowski, Ormandy, et al. The strings are highlighted throughout, but not so as to overshadow the contributions of all sections of the orchestra, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. So popular has the orchestrated version become that it is often featured as an introductory piece in the Proms concerts every summer at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
This is the first performance of the Fantasia & Fugue by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra
Program Notes by Robert M. Johnstone
Nelson • Rocky Point Holiday
Richmond Symphony Orchestra, December 3, 2006
Guy Victor Bordo, conducting
Ron Nelson · Rocky Point Holiday
Born December 14, 1929
Duration: 6 minutes
Rachmaninoff • Symphony No. 2, Finale – Movement 4
Richmond Symphony Orchestra, October 26, 2019
Guy Victor Bordo, conducting
Sergei Rachmaninoff · Symphony No. 2
Born April 1, 1873 – Died March 28, 1943
Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings
Duration: 47 minutes
Rachmaninoff wrote his Symphony No. 2 over two years, from 1906-1907. It was premiered in 1908 with the composer conducting in St. Petersburg. The work in is original form is approximately 65 minutes long. It is often performed today with cuts that were made by the great conductor Eugene Ormandy with the agreement of Rachmaninoff. That is the version we are playing tonight, which runs about 47 minutes. All the important material is present, but a number of repeated sections are removed.
The creation of this symphony was not an easy process. The First Symphony had been premiered in 1897 with Glazunov conducting. The first performance was considered a disaster and the criticism caused Rachmaninoff to go into a deep and lasting depression. This was thought to be an easy state for the composer to fall into. Stravinsky once referred to Rachmaninoff as “six feet and two inches of Russian gloom”. The fact that the orchestra was reportedly not well rehearsed and the speculation that Glazunov had too much to drink prior has also followed the story of the premiere. He worked for many months on the Symphony No. 2 and was not confident in the work. But the premiere proved to be a triumph and restored his feeling of confidence as a symphonic composer.
The work is in four movements. The first is one of the longer movements with a great deal of Romanticism in the writing. The second movement is a Scherzo that features complicated string writing, prominent brass and rapid changes of character. The third movement is the slow movement and has one of Rachmaninoff’s most memorable themes. The final movement requires intensity from everyone on stage. Great technical demands, along with highly memorable themes and a powerful coda brings the symphony to a compelling conclusion.
Things to listen for:
• Long, lush lines in strings creating a highly romantic character.
• Question: Who used the theme from movement three for a hit song in 1976?
• A powerful, dense orchestral texture with moments of great intensity as well as introspection.
• A large orchestra including English horn and Bass Clarinet, both with prominent solos.
This is the first performance of this composition by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.
Program notes by Guy Victor Bordo
Aaron Copland ⋅ A Lincoln Portrait
This is the first performance of A Lincoln Portrait by the Richmond Symphony on September 18th, 2004 on the Civic Hall Stage. This performance includes narration by Robert M. Johnstone. Conducted by Guy Victor Bordo.
A Lincoln Portrait ⋅ Aaron Copland
Born in Brooklyn, New York, 1900
Died in New York City, 1990
Premiere: Cincinnati, Ohio, May 14, 1942
Instrumentation: narrator; piccolo, 2 flutes, English horn, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; harp, celesta; timpani, percussion; strings
Duration: 15 minutes
Following America’s entry into World War II, the conductor-entrepreneur André Kostelanetz commissioned three composers to write pieces “to express the magnificent spirit of this country.” He called for three musical portraits of inspirational Americans. The result was mixed. Jerome Kern composed an unmemorable Portrait for Orchestra of Mark Twain, while Virgil Thomson wrote The LaGuardia Waltzes in honor of New York City’s stormy-petrel mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
Aaron Copland had a somewhat loftier subject in mind. His first thought was to do a portrait of that most American of poets, Walt Whitman. But Kostelanetz already had a literary figure in his triptych and suggested a national statesman instead. Despite Virgil Thomson’s caution that “no composer could possibly hope to match in musical terms the stature of so eminent a figure as that of Lincoln,” Copland went ahead. As he put it, “Of course [Thomson] was right. But the sitter himself might speak. With the voice of Lincoln to help me I was ready to risk the impossible.”
Copland continued, “The letters and speeches of Lincoln supplied the text. It was a comparatively simple matter to choose a few excerpts that seemed particularly apposite to our own situation…. I avoided the temptation to use only well-known passages, permitting myself the luxury of quoting only once from a world-famous speech….”
He sketched out his Portrait in February of 1942, finishing it on April 16. Most of the music is original, but Copland drew upon two popular songs of Lincoln’s day: Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” and “a ballad that was first published in 1840 under the title, ‘The Pesky Sarpent,’ but is better known today as ‘Springfield Mountain.’” “In neither case is the treatment a literal one,” he wrote. “The tunes are used freely, in the manner of my use of cowboy songs in Billy the Kid.”
The piece is in three main sections. As Copland observed, “In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit [suggested by the clarinet playing “Springfield Mountain”]. The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived [here are fragments of “Camptown Races”]. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.”
Appropriately the score is dedicated to André Kostelanetz, who conducted the premiere at a pension fund concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in May, 1942. Later performances by the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic contributed to its wide popularity with audiences then and since.
Notes written by Dr. Robert M. Johnstone
Carter Pann ⋅ Slalom
This piece was first performed by the RSO on March 7th, 2015 on the Civic Hall Stage. Conducted by Guy Victor Bordo
Slalom ⋅ Carter Pann
Born in La Grange, Illinois, in 1972
Permiere: Haddenfield, New Jersey, March, 2000
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon; 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, piano, celesta, harp, percussion; strings
Duration: 10 minutes
American composer Carter Pann was born in La Grange, Illinois in 1972. He studied piano performance and composition at the Eastman School in Rochester, New York, and at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he earned a Doctorate in Musical Arts, studying with such diverse teachers as William Albright, William Bolcom, Joseph Schwantner, and Bright Sheng. In his early 40s, Pann has had his works performed in this country and in Europe, notably by the London Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony, as well as many university, college, and youth orchestras, for which he has developed an affinity. He currently holds a teaching position at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Pann describes his music as a “blend of crafty, popular-sounding idioms, subtle and unabashed humor, and haunted melodic writing.” His humor comes through in the titles for some of his works, notably a commission from clarinetist Richard Stoltzman called “Rags to Richard.” He writes in his own program notes for Slalom that it “is a taste of the thrill of downhill skiing. The work is performed at a severe tempo throughout, showcasing the orchestra’s volatility and endurance. The idea . . . came directly out of a wonderful discovery I made several years ago at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, when I embarked on the mountain-base gondola with a cassette player and headphones. At the time I was treating myself to large doses of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The exhilaration of barreling down the Rockies with such music pumping into my ears was overwhelming. After a few years of skiing with some of the greatest repertoire it occurred to me that I could customize the experience. The work is presented as a collection of scenes and events one might come by on the slopes. The score is peppered with phrase-headings for the different sections such as “First Run,” “Open Meadow, Champagne Powder,” “Straight Down, TUCK,” and “On One Ski, Gyrating,” among others. Pann goes on to conclude that “SLALOM lasts ten minutes . . . precisely the amount of time I need to get from Storm Peak . . . to the mountain base, skiing full throttle.” Some ride!
Notes written by Dr. Robert M. Johnstone
Rimsky Korsakov • Capriccio Espagnol
The RSO performed this piece at Seton on March 3rd, 2018.
Conducted by Guy Victor Bordo
Capriccio Espagnole • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Born in Tikhvin, Russia, in 1844
Premiere: St. Petersburg, October 31, 1887
Died in Liubensk, Russia, in 1908
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons; 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba; timpani, harp, percussion; strings
Duration: 16 minutes
A disciple of the early Russian nationalists Glinka and Balakirev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was both a fine composer and a selfless teacher. He inspired a younger generation that included both traditionalists (Rachmaninoff and Glazunov) and modernists (Stravinsky and Prokofiev). The critic Carl Van Vechten has written, “The folk song, the Orient, and the sea were the three great influences which pursued Rimsky-Korsakov throughout his career, and he never got very far away from any of them.” Trained as a naval officer, he traveled widely and his music reflects the exotic, the fanciful, and the picturesque.
This is certainly the case with Capriccio Espagnole. Its composition marked a revival of Rimsky’s musical creativity after several years of almost pietistic devotion to ordering, editing, completing, and in some cases re-composing the last works of his two great patrons, Mussorgsky and Borodin. After finishing the latter’s great opera, Prince Igor, Rimsky gave final shape to his own Capriccio in early 1887, conducting the premiere that autumn in St. Petersburg.
The Italian word “capriccio,” literally means “a head with hair standing on end.” In its English form, “caprice,” it refers to behavior that is sudden, impulsive, and whimsical. In music, then, a “capriccio” is an irrepressible piece that is free in form, often rhythmically brisk and bold in execution. Capriccio Espagnole was certainly written that way—in Rimsky’s words, designed to “glitter with dazzling orchestral color.” This patchwork of “striking ideas and bright effects,” he continued somewhat immodestly, “the change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs…exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuosic cadenzas for solo instruments, the rhythm of the percussion instruments, etc., constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration.”
His original intent had been to write a rhapsody for violin and orchestra on Spanish themes, but he decided instead to use the orchestra itself as his virtuoso “instrument.” He reported that the players loved the piece in rehearsal, applauding at the end of each section. He not only dedicated the piece to the St. Petersburg players, but listed all 67 musicians as “featured soloists” on the program page at the premiere. The opening night audience echoed the performers’ delight, demanding it be repeated on the spot.
The Capriccio is in five sections played without pause: I. “Alborada,” is a Spanish morning serenade that opens flamboyantly and then subsides into ethereal quiet; II. is a set of “Variations” on the opening theme, led by the French horn, each of the five variations embodying a different orchestral color; III. “Alborada,” is a repetition of the first section with changes in key and orchestration; IV, is labeled “Scene and Gypsy Song,” and V. “Fandango of the Asturias,” is a dance of Andalusia, appropriately accompanied by guitar and castanets. The piece ends with a final recall of the “Alborada” theme.
Thomas Elefant conducted Capriccio Espagnole in 1993 and Guy Bordo has programmed it twice before, in 1999 and 2008.
Notes written by Robert M. Johnstone
From Our Home to Yours
Alistair Watson and Beth Uhimchuk, Violin
Please join Alistair and Beth for this beautiful home performance.
David Roode, Principal Trombone
David Roode, our principal trombone player, is joined by his wife, Mika Komuro on piano. Please enjoy this lovely duet, which is accompanied by a great tour of the musicians’ home and garden.